What I’m NOT Reading: The Looking Glass War

I was really looking forward to this book, but ultimately found that the tight timeline (necessary to avoid having an adult female princess!!!!!111!) stretched my credulity too far. Here’s my breaking point.

He put an arm around Alyss’ waist and moved with her in gentle circles. He had never touched the princess before — not like this. She smelled of sweet earth and powder. It was a clean, delicate smell. Did all girls smell like this or only princesses?

This is on page 31. ALYSS IS SEVEN, STOP SNIFFING HER. Also, you’re ten and a half. WTF, that whole passage is weird.

Look, I get that Dodge and Alyss are an OTP, and have cared for each other since they were kids. However, SHE’S SEVEN AND HE KEEPS THINKING OF HER AS HIS SWEET SMELLING ALYSS. That’s just weird… and would be nicely solved if…

1. The Alyss who returns to Wonderland 13 years later is a grown woman — IE she’s 13 now, he’s 14 now, and then when she comes back she’s 26. It’s still creepy there’s sniffing going on, but considering that teens that age are a GIANT BALL OF HORMONES, it’d make more SENSE. I know her leaving at 7 and coming back at 20 is meant to make her return to Wonderland a coming of age, but the thing is, she’s still coded as fairly childlike/innocent, in a way I find unbelievable for a child survivor of an orphanage system.

2. When she’s sucked into our world, there’s a brief in-text explanation for her being older, but passing for younger at the orphanage. It’d makes sense because she has no papers, looks “delicate,” and people from Wonderland aren’t quite the same as regular humans.

As it is? I couldn’t suspend disbelief enough to be okay that Alyss was 7, and that she and Dodge were “more than friends,” as she puts it when she’s in our world. The above left me with the suspicion that the author wanted to have twee!Alyss and teen!Alyss, but not grown woman Alyss, who I’m intuiting would’ve been a more interesting character because of being half-trained in the magic of Wonderland (instead of untrained and guessing, like some Chris Claremont version of Kitty Pryde or Elora Danan) and because grown!Alyss would probably have some understandable ANGER and COMPLICATED FEELINGS about her return to Wonderland. Instead, the ALYSS of this Wonderland revamp is… how can I say this? Boring. She’s an object of affections, loyalty, etc., but not the bearer of her own feelings. This is a shame, since the original Wonderland series featured such a quirky, vital female protagonist.

Conclusion: Think about timeline and age when mapping out a relationship and the events of your novel.


  1. says

    I ended up tossing the series after reading the first two books. I thought the first one was meh & the second was blah, but also– yeah. Like you said. Ick.

  2. says

    Oh, I lovedlovedloved the first book, was pretty ehhh about the second, and only read the third out of a sense of duty to complete the trilogy. I don’t know if I was just so taken with the idea of a Wicked-esque approach to Wonderland or if I just wasn’t reading very critically but now that I’m thinking about it there are only really three notable women in the whole series – Alyss, Redd and Molly. The fact that Wonderland is a Queendom is even a plot point in the second and/or third book but still, all of Alyss’s advisors and allies are men.

    Is it bad that the fact that Alyss was 20 when she came back was surprising to me? Because she was legally an adult holy shit. By like two years! Compare to Twilight where the whole cast is seventeen forever – and most YA fiction I see seems to be centered around high-school aged girls – and I actually thought that making Alyss 20 was pretty gutsy for the writer.

  3. says

    Okay, that’s really creepy. Remember how people were a little weirded out in the SW prequels when Anakin and Padme met at, like, 10 and 13 respectively, and he then obsessed over her for 10 years during which he never saw her again? But at least there, he turns into a total psychopath, so you can take his obsession as a prelude to that. This is waaaayyyy creepier.

    Honestly, the things people think signify true love frequently leave me shouting at media, “You stupid woman, why can you not see that he is a controlling bag of hate masquerading as a nice guy?”

  4. sbg says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I called the ones I dated closet assholes. Like, you think it’s all safe and good until you open the door and bam! Asshole. It’s gotten to the point I now expect both the closet door and the asshole, which makes it difficult to date.

  5. sbg says

    I thought at ten boys thought girls had cooties and vice versa. I thought, too, they weren’t quite so purple in their thoughts.

    My bad.

  6. says

    sbg, I said that confusingly. I meant, the things some fiction creators think signify true love leave me shouting that stuff at their female characters. Sorry about that!

    Yes, closet assholes are something anyone can find themselves dating. Many of them hide it really well, at least at first. It’s only in fiction that women are frequently spectacularly stupid about this stuff. In real life, despite all the problems of people telling us stalking is romantic and date rape is passion, I think most women still realize *when it’s happening to them* that these behaviors are creepy. Really, when you consider the volume of dangerous and misleading programming thrown at us, women are pretty savvy as a group.

  7. DNi says

    “I thought at ten boys thought girls had cooties and vice versa.”

    That’s a filthy filthy lie. I had a crush so hard on a girl in kindergarden that I actually named my cat after her. Then there was another girl in second grade who I thought was all kinds of pretty.

  8. says


    *cue “This Isn’t My Idea (of Fun)” from “The Swan Princess”*


    I mean, I know I had male and female friends at seven, but I wasn’t slow dancing, and was kind of oblivious to all the hormonal angst and creeping and boy-girl friendship policing going on around me because I was a year younger than my classmates and I thought cooties =/= an inclination for roller hockey and bugs.

    I did notice my boobs kind of changed interpersonal relations some, when I was about nine, so idk if Dodge’s sniffing of people/girls generally is weird, but it’s definitely weird that he’s sniffing a seven year old, and that said seven year old is, like, his defining example of girlhood. And why does she smell like dirt and baby powder anyway?? Gross. Playing outside doesn’t make you smell like “sweet earth,” even if you aren’t all pheromone-y to cut through whatever is making you smell powdery.

  9. eldritchMortician says

    Hmm, other things aside I’m going to have to say I don’t agree about the ‘sniffing’ part…

    Scent is a sense tied very strongly with memory. A specific scent can bring up a memory rather more than other senses. ( http://psychology.about.com/od/memory/ss/ten-facts-about-memory_8.htm ) So it doesn’t bother me specifically that a character notes a scent, and that it’s tied to a memory (again other potentially problematic elements aside).

    I think the reason people find it strange or impolite is that particularly here in America, we’re socialized to NOT talk about what we smell, unless it’s cooking or on rare occasions perfume. I can’t find the article I read about it a while back, but it was quite interesting.

    It seems to be considered strange, or even impolite or sexualized to talk about smells that relate to other humans, so we rarely hear anyone remark on them. I don’t know if this is the case with other countries, though I do think of particularly the beginning of the Shoujo Kakumei Utena series where Utena remarks several times on the scent of her prince, roses, which draws her to the rose garden in the first place. Off the top of my head there’s also the Sailor Moon manga, where Usagi (Sailor Moon) remarks about Makoto (Sailor Jupiter), after meeting her “such a sweet scent” though these could fall under perfume I suppose.

    Again, not disagreeing with the weird age/characterization problems (especially as I haven’t read the books and can’t form an opinion), but offering a different perspective due to the scent/memory thing and cultural stuffs.

  10. Maria says


    I actually don’t mind the use of scent as a means of linking a memory to a moment, or even the idea that kids can have erotic/erogenous associations with particular memories from their childhood. What I do disagree with here is the idea that as ten year old FRIEND of the princess that Dodge would have such a precise memory of her ULTIMATE GIRLNESS associated with the smell of a seven year old FRIEND. If it was characterized as, say, an *innocent* moment (which would be all right, since Alyss is a symbol of innocence for some Wonderland folk) or a *lost time* moment (since this is before Redd’s attack on the city and the rupture of this dynasty) I’d be down for it, at least a little. It’s the scent/erotic/ROMANCE FOREVER connection that I’m annoyed by.

    ETA: Sorry, lost a sentence: This is particularly annoying since Alyss went looking for Dodge specifically to cause some havoc, and now they’re what? Pretending he’s the knight who’s going to rescue her that she’s rewarding with a dance? She’s the heir apparrent in a warrior-matriarchy whose mother vanquished her aunt just a few short years ago. Why on earth would she go with the “you’re the brave guard, I’m the gentle princess, you’re going to save me!!” game of pretend?

    (Also, I have to admit: I would’ve liked it if the association for Alyss’ scent was something like “sweet earth and oakmoss” or “sweet earth and vanilla” (both vanilla and oakmoss are scents associated with face powder and baby powder), for the precision of that dsecription, and my own feeling that “powdery” is a weaksauce, vague word. Describing a woman’s scent as powdery is, imo, two steps away from saying she smells “nice” or “good.”)

  11. Ara says


    I don’t think you *can* smell powdery. “Powdery” is a descriptor of the consistency of a substance. The only way something could smell powdery is if it was so powdery it got in your nose when you sniffed it.

  12. eldritchMortician says


    Ah, gotcha. As I said, haven’t read so sorta lost context there. Just felt like yammering about trivia I guess XD

  13. Maria says


    Oh, no! You’re right in that sense is underused in American fiction. However, in this case, it’s not being used *well*. Just going with powdery (which, btw, is a scent descriptor you’ll see used in perfume ads, but doesn’t really “mean” anything… kinda like how “dry” in perfume ads is used to mean “not sweet”) isn’t a good use of such a powerful sense, which you can use to both reveal a memory, an ambiance, and a character. Part of what was frustrating about this book for me was how close it came to being really satisfying.

  14. says


    Reminds me of the first “What I’m Not Reading”, in which a character had “creamy paws”, and I was all like, “They are paws made of, like, Cool Whip? What are we saying here?”

    Dictionary.com, people. It’s RIGHT THERE.

  15. Maria says

    Jennifer Kesler:

    Reminds me of the first “What I’m Not Reading”, in which a character had “creamy paws”, and I was all like, “They are paws made of, like, Cool Whip? What are we saying here?”

    Dictionary.com, people. It’s RIGHT THERE.

    LOL yeah, exactly! I know it’s easy to fall into tropey language — like, for example, a heroine having storm-tossed hair to match her tempestuous personality when two lines earlier we established it’s sunny — but seriously, that’s what a good writing group can help you deal with.

  16. Casey says


    Maybe this is TMI but when I was around that age my mom would have me put on baby powder after I took a bath (maybe I was just being overly coddled?).

  17. Maria says


    :nods: That makes sense. But to me, if she’s had a full day playing and having a birthday party, she still wouldn’t smell like powder. The dirt part? That makes sense. LOL I guess I just want some BO in there, since most of the below ten-yr-old girls I know take playing pretty seriously and get kinda funky!

  18. Casey says


    That’s very true…which just emphasizes how icky the whole “powdery scent” thing is…trying to get over how delicate/innocent/untouched Alyss is or something? *shudder*

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